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BOB RYAN

Unfortunately, Jays haven't been air mailing these in

It's a pennant race, see?

It means you get a Seth McClung hanging up zeros for eight against the Indians in their own ballpark. It means you have Alex Rodriguez hitting a huge tying homer when the Yankees need a big hit. And, yes, it means you have the Toronto Blue Jays playing the Boston Red Sox as if victory meant an all-expenses Hawaiian vacation for every player on the team, plus a dozen family members.

Now where's all that talk about the last seven games being at home? Home or away, the Blue Jays have been a source of agitation for the Red Sox all season. With last night's 7-2 victory safely recorded in the books, the Blue Jays are now 11-6 against the Sox with tonight's game representing the de facto end of their season. When this one's over, the Blue Jays are going home to conclude the season against the Royals. For a little fun exercise, check the times of those games. Let's just say you won't see a lot of guys working the count.

But these games have been serious business for both teams. The Blue Jays came here talking the brave talk that they weren't going to be compliant pawns in any global warfare involving the Red Sox and Yankees. They didn't mail any in when they played the Yankees last week and they have been -- there is no better way to put it -- the better team thus far in their series at Fenway.

''It's fun," said Vernon Wells, who got the Blue Jays off nicely with a two-run shot into the High-Priced Glorified Bleacher Seats Atop The Wall in the first. ''It's fun being here in this atmosphere. Obviously, we'd rather be here with these games meaning something for both teams, but this is still fun for us."

''I've been saying all year these kids have a lot of heart," declared Toronto skipper John Gibbons. ''Even when we lose, we hang around. It's natural for these guys. We've come up short a lot, or we wouldn't be under .500, but we grind it out for nine innings, every night."

And give the Toronto players credit for not wallowing in self-pity. After all, they did lose the guy who might just be the best starting pitcher in the league when Roy Halladay was hit by a line drive in early July and thus rendered hors de combat with a broken leg.

''We're sitting here thinking, 'If we only had Halladay,' " said J.P. Ricciardi, the Toronto GM, ''we" being the front-office folk. ''Throw in seven more games on to what we have."

Halladay or no Halladay, what Gibbons does have available has done very well against the Red Sox.

''They're beating us, and it's not fluky," said Terry Francona. ''If I had an answer why, they wouldn't be doing it. But we have one more shot."

So perhaps Matt Clement can do what neither Curt Schilling nor Bronson Arroyo were able to do in the last two games; namely, give the Sox a chance to win with a professional starting job. You don't need that PhD in Diamondology to know that if one guy can't hold leads of 3-0 and 5-2 and the other guy gets you behind, 5-2, by giving up three home runs and a triple in three-plus innings, you're probably not going to win.

Of course, in the Good Old Days (i.e. August), a 7-2 deficit wouldn't even be regarded as a significant challenge. But as the days have grown shorter and the atmospheric conditions have changed, the over/under on the Red Sox' run count is no longer seven, as it was for lo those many giddy August days and nights. The Red Sox won four August and early September games by 7-6 scores. Last night's game was the sixth time they've scored fewer than four runs in their last seven Fenway games.

The Red Sox had early chances against Ted Lilly. Tony Graffanino couldn't get anyone home with men on second and third and two out in the second, and then there was a painful third in which Johnny Damon (single) and Edgar Renteria (walk) were sitting there, awaiting the Big Guns with no one out. But David Ortiz flied to center, Manny Ramirez struck out, and, after Jason Varitek coaxed a walk, Kevin Millar flied meekly to shallow right.

The Sox did score a run in the fifth on a Renteria double and Big Papi single, but all that did was make it 7-2, which is the way it would end.

All this frustration made Fenway quite funereal. By the time Ortiz hit a two-out single to prolong the agony in the ninth, there were acres of red, blue, and green showing in the stands and a premature traffic jam on Boylston Street. There weren't many keeping the faith, not with the Yankee result taunting them on the left-field scoreboard.

Well, of course, the Indians lost, too, but the truth of the matter is that the soft core of the constituency is thinking only of the Yankees. People have got to sober up. Getting in is all that matters. Have people forgotten that the last three World Series champions, including their beloved Red Sox, have come from the ranks of the wild card? As Yogi might say, if you're in, you're in. Then the fun starts.

Since Tim Wakefield & Friends stifled the Blue Jays Tuesday afternoon, the Red Sox have played two bad all-around games. No one can deny that. But if people have been paying attention for the past three years, the Red Sox are pretty good at crisis management.

''We've been there," reminded Damon, who famously pointed out when his team was down, 0-3, to the Yankees that ''we've won four in a row before." Damon's thesis last evening was that ''nobody is shedding a tear on this team right now."

''We know what we have to do," he continued.

The cruel irony of last night's game was that in the wake of Arroyo's washout starting performance the much-discussed bullpen was sensational (six innings, one hit). Raise your hand if you got up yesterday and had a strong feeling that Lenny DiNardo would get into last night's game and pitch like Randy Johnson.

This is all apropos of nothing, other than the fact that baseball offers more surprises, more twists, and more drama than all those other sports put together, and we've still got four games left. There might be another Dave Roberts moment in store for someone. Who knows?

Nothing's settled yet. In fact, I'd kinda keep Monday night clear, if I were you.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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